This week in 1975: Industrial robotics

It was the early days of industrial robotics, automotive production lines were still largely manual and industry was years away from the automation boom of the mid-1980s.

As this story on a report prepared for the French government appears to show, the jury was still out on robotic technology. ‘France has not been greatly involved in development of industrial robots,’ wrote The Engineer, ‘so the report was called for to decide whether it should actively promote development in this direction… [it] gives little encouragement to such support.’

It goes on to highlight some fairly conservative predictions. ‘Up to 1978 there will be no major technical improvements in programmable robots… prices will remain steady… and the world leader, Unimation, will reach only a monthly output of 40-50 units from its present 15-20.’

The reason for this conservatism was low economies of scale. ‘Cost savings on electronics will be offset by the rising cost of mechanical components… the only hope for a price reduction would be an agreement among manufacturers to modularise the mechanical, actuating and memory systems of robots, but as yet only one truly modular robot has appeared on the market.’

‘Despite some optimistic forecasts about the long-term demand for programmable robots,’ The Engineer concluded, ‘their future except where social factors are important will depend on a radical improvement in technical performance. Successful industrial application of robots will be limited to certain specialised tasks and even for these duties much research and standardisation effort will be needed before they are profitable.’

How times have changed.

Jon Excell